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Indian badminton player P.V. Sindhu after winning her semi-final match against Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara at the Rio Olympic Games 2016 on Thursday. Photo: AP
Indian badminton player P.V. Sindhu after winning her semi-final match against Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara at the Rio Olympic Games 2016 on Thursday. Photo: AP

Rio Olympics: P.V. Sindhu books a shot at gold

P.V. Sindhu trumps Nozomi Okuhara of Japan 21-19, 21-10 in 51 minutes to advance into women's badminton final, guarantees India at least a silver medal

New Delhi: P.V. Sindhu scripted history on Thursday by becoming the first Indian to ever book a berth in the finals of the badminton singles competition at the Olympics. The 21-year-old girl from Hyderabad defeated World No. 6 Nozomi Okuhara of Japan 21-19, 21-10 in 51 minutes and guaranteed India at least a silver medal in the event.

A place in the final has also ensured that Sindhu will become the fifth female athlete from India to manage a podium finish at the world’s biggest sporting extravaganza. The other four women who have won a medal for India at the Olympics are Karnam Malleswari (bronze in women’s 69 kg weightlifting, Sydney, 2000), Saina Nehwal (bronze in women’s singles badminton, London, 2012), Mary Kom (bronze in women’s flyweight boxing, London, 2012) and Sakshi Malik (bronze in women’s 58kg freestyle wrestling, Rio, 2016).

Sindhu will now take on World No.1 Carolina Marin of Spain, the two-time world and European singles champion who defeated Li Xuerui of China in straight games, 21-14, 21-16, in the first of the semi-finals that lasted 55 minutes.

The first game in the Sindhu-Okuhara semi-final lasted 27 minutes, in which the two players kept returning smashes and points kept coming back and forth. Sindhu, however, dominated the second game from the very start. She took a 3-0 lead only to give it away and trail by 5-3. It was after 10-all that Sindhu came into her own and won the next 11 points straight. Her smashes were immaculate and, at times, her opponent had absolutely no answers.

India’s previous best performance in badminton at the Olympics has been the bronze medal that Saina Nehwal won in London in 2012. Sindhu was a teenager then, watching the Games on television.

In the group stage, Sindhu defeated Laura Sárosi of Hungary 21–8, 21–9 and Michelle Li of Canada 19-21, 21-15, 21-17; in the round of 16, she beat Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei 21-13, 21-15 to reach the quarter-finals.

In the round of eight, the lanky 5ft 11in girl from Hyderabad defeated World No. 2 Wang Yihan of China 22-20, 21-19 to proceed to the semis.

The Rio Games marks Sindhu’s debut at the Olympics and she has guaranteed India at least a silver medal in badminton after Kidambi Srikanth and Saina Nehwal made early exits from the competition.

India’s only medal so far at the Rio Games has been a bronze in women’s freestyle wrestling.

Sindhu learnt her craft at the Gopi Chand Academy in Hyderabad, run by the former All-England champion Pullela Gopichand, who is now the head coach of the Indian badminton team. Gopichand had predicted that Sindhu would be one of the world’s top players years ago, when the girl from Andhra was just 16. By 17, she was winning national tournaments.

Sindhu’s parents had both played volleyball at the national level, and she seemed to have acquired their height and athleticism. “She is still growing, so she is still having to work on adapting her game," Gopichand had said back in 2012. “She will be a complete player once she reaches her full height and has had time to develop her fitness."

Now, those words are coming true. Sindhu’s game is defined by her reach and her steep shots—and physically, she looks supremely fit.

Sindhu broke into the Badminton World Federation’s top 20 rankings in 2012, defeating Olympic gold medallist Li Xuerui in the quarter-finals of the China Masters. In 2014, she won the bronze medal in the singles at the Glasgow CWG, and a bronze in the team event at the Asian Games in Incheon.

At Rio, the Hyderabad girl is on a giant-killing spree—conquering higher ranked players quite convincingly in the last two ties. But the gold medal match against 23-year-old Marin is not going to be easy. On her road to the final, the World No.1 Marin defeated Nanna Vainio of Finland (21-6, 21-4) and Line Kjærsfeldt of Denmark (21-16, 21-13) in the group stage quite convincingly. In the round of eight, she defeated World No.7 Sung Ji-hyun of Korea in straight games 21-12, 21-16.

ALSO READ | I’ll give my heart for gold: PV Sindhu after Rio Olympics semi-final victory

Marin also leads the head-to-head encounters against Sindhu 4-2. Sindhu’s most recent victory over the Spaniard came in the semi-final of the Denmark Open last year.

The final match of the women’s singles badminton event at Rio will be played on Friday at 7.30pm, India time.

One more game, one last hurrah, and who knows, India might well win a gold.

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